The ‘extra mile’ that teachers go puts them in class of their own

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

Negative stories make headlines in the media because they usually excite greater interest than those covering positive issues – and that’s especially true regarding education, which is in focus at this time as students begin settling into another school year.

Even before the media may take hold of an issue, it’s likely that general playground or dinner table discussions about classroom matters can highlight negative rather than positive issues: complaints about teachers or poor facilities in classrooms rather than praise for situations where everything seems to be going well.

Education and the teachers providing it can be easy targets for criticism because those who sit on the sidelines often claim that they appear to have too much free time due to long holiday periods, or that they really only seem to work for a few hours each day.

Talk to those who are dedicated to educating the young and you quickly learn that many would-be leisure hours are spent either preparing to enhance aspects of their face-to-face times in front of classes, or assisting students who may need additional help.

But negative aspects relating to those involved with education can spread internationally, as happened earlier this month when news reports reached Australia concerning a teacher in Britain who had been unable to spell a number of words correctly when setting a homework assignment.

Yes, the evidence clearly showed that the exercise was “riddled with mistakes” which the teacher should have avoided – but reading about the issue prompted me to consider some of the more positive teacher duties that can be a part of the regular school routine but which don’t attract attention.

Those thoughts ranged across the number of times I remember teachers providing assistance to students; being available to take those requiring medical assistance to where it was available; and offering special sports coaching, sometimes in far less than perfect weather.

My wife also reminded me that when she was very young she and her fellow students who travelled long distances by bus to attend school in the Central West of NSW were provided with winter time early morning cups of hot cocoa by Sisters of the black Josephite Order.

This may seem too far back into the past now that it’s hard to find those from religious orders in our classrooms, but teachers can still deliver an important outreach to students in our schools.

I attended the annual closing Mass and Presentation Day for De La Salle College at Ashfield last month and was impressed to see that the principal, Stephen Kennaugh, took the time to share a friendly greeting and talk to students as they arrived at the gate.

A check later revealed that while this may not happen every day, it wasn’t unusual and the response of students indicated that they appeared to appreciate the initiative and were pleased to stop for a brief chat.

That school was one of the first in Sydney to be placed fully into the hands of lay teachers as the order began reacting to reduced numbers of Brothers more than four decades ago.

It will mark its centenary this year with a special Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral on 6 May and a social function that evening, while several other initiatives have also been planned to make 2016 memorable for all.

Coverage of the celebrations may not prove to be widespread but they’re designed to offer those who are in the current school family a chance to embrace something of the past and also show old boys how the spirit of those times has contributed to what is there today.

One school principal being prepared to take time to greet his students and the warming generosity spread by nuns who are now likely passed on may not be embraced as strong evidence of bringing important touches to education, but those involved with both of these incidents were not seeking publicity: they were simply doing their jobs.

Those who are in front of classrooms have special opportunities to show their dedication to spreading the Christian message by example as much as through their words that they, hopefully, will always spell correctly.